Sunday, November 23, 2008

Psst...What Do People Say About You?

What do people say about you?

When your name comes up in conversation do people talk with respect or do they trash your brand?

We all want positive word of mouth about our products, services, issues or causes. Yet the irony is few Australian organizations use word of mouth marketing as part of their marketing mix?

That’s why you should read Andy Sernovitz’s new book Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking.

Word of mouth marketing has been around forever, beginning when people first saw the value in sharing information and warning others about risky situations.

Word of mouth is about genuine conversations where people exchange ideas, criticisms and endorsements. And it is becoming increasingly important given the tsunami of invasive advertising hitting us each day. Sernovitz argues ‘traditional marketing is no longer the safe way to go. It may make you comfortable but it is becoming gradually less and less effective for more and more companies.'

Organic word of mouth is the range of genuine conversations people have among themselves each day. They share information on what to buy, what to wear, where to work and countless other topics with friends, family, classmates, workmates and team mates. Organisations can encourage organic word of mouth by providing quality services, listening to people and responding to their issues and continually freshening conversations by bringing in new programs, products, faster turn around times, etc.

Organisations use amplified word of mouth when they deliberately set out to create positive talk about their products or services. This often involves seeking out people with influence with the specific intent of inviting them to start conversations within their networks. And organizations can accelerate this type of word of mouth by moving it online where, through a keyboard or mobile device they can engage either individuals or specific groups.

Amplified word of mouth marketing can also be encouraged by creating online communities where people swap ideas and experiences, encouraging others to promote what you do and using advertising or media coverage to strategically prime the pump and start conversations.

Andy Sernovitz’s book details the topics, talkers, tools and tracking needed to make word of mouth succeed. It is a must read for those of us on limited budgets looking to communicate with impact.

Tough Times Demand Clear Communications

Right now we need communicators of the calibre of Franklin D Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Here's why....

Last week the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, Glenn Stevens, said '...given the underlying strengths of the Australian economy about the biggest mistake we could make would be talk ourselves into unnecessary economic weakness.'

Stevens' remarks are a timely reminder that tough times call for clear communications. In uncertain times the only sure way we can chart a new course is through having leaders who communicate clearly, consistently and offer us a sense of hope and direction.

Forget the markets, economists, sharemarket traders, pundits and others to show us the future. They are the same people who got us into this financial meltdown mess,and how many of us really understood what they were saying anyway? It would be foolish to think they can succeed now when the issues to be communicated are so much more complex.

The demand will be increasingly for leaders in the workplace, business, the community and above all at the political level who can talk to us in simple, straight forward language about where we find ourselves and how to move forward to a better place.

I recently visited the Presidential Libraries of US Presidents Franklin D Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, arguably among the master communicators of the 20th century. Both made complex issues easy to understand for the common man and woman and, both carried a sense of grounded optimism in their public commentary even when the issues were hard.

In uncertain times people will expect their managers and leaders to talk straight and talk often. We are heading back to the future where simplicity, a sense of direction and (dare I say it) cautious optimism will become increasingly prized in the communications with our communities.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Plain Talking In Motown

I have just returned home after three weeks in the USA. And what an exciting time it has been for a communicator to be in the US. Particularly watching the US Presidential Elections unfold at first hand.

But first let me tell you about the International Conference of the Public Relations Society of America, where 3000 communicators from around the world met in Detroit (Motown) to discuss the latest trends in communications.

The conference was dominated by two themes - the dawn of a new communications era brought about by social media and the need for authenticity in communications.

The discussion certainly ran hot about using on-line technologies to connect with audiences. It seems American communicators are far more advanced than their Australian peers in using social media. I estimate about 2/3 of those in Detroit were already using digital platforms like Twitter, Facebook etc both for their personal and corporate communications and the remainder simply know they have to catch up to remain competitive.

Authenticity was the other key theme - speaker after speaker emphasised that effective PR is achieved only through honest, open and two way relationships and the days of organisations telling people what to think are disappearing fast.

Citizens, consumers and communities expect to be listened to, and have their concerns acted upon. Following the collapse of the global economy we are seeing the exit of the 'smart guys'. Those who made a ton of money peddling information about products and services most of us could not understand. Perhaps, and hopefully, we are seeing a return to basic communications values such as respect, plain talking and tolerance for different ideas.

Certainly this was a theme taken up by Conference keynote speaker Craig Newmark founder of Craig's List, a site which gets 12 billion hits each month. Craig talked about the need to get involved, to listen, continuously engage with the community and treat people 'like you want to be treated'.

It all sounds a bit 'down home and folksy' but it's refreshing to see values-based communications back on the agenda.